I’ve been told many times that I’m too hard on men. It’s a stone’s throw from accusing me of being a man-hater – a charming throwback to a time in the 70s when “women’s libbers” fought “chauvinist pigs.”
While it’s ridiculous to have to say it, allow me to explain the truth: I don’t hate men, I just have high expectations when it comes to sexism and misogyny. I hold them accountable for the privilege they enjoy and the hardships that women suffer in direct relation. I don’t let men off the hook for conveniently ignoring the misogyny all around us. It is time to expect more from the men in our lives.
Why do women who have been attacked on the streets, by their spouses, or by “trolls” have no recourse? We’re told to ignore it, as if we can ignore the violence coming from the hands of people who resent us for existing. We are accused of “playing the victim,” as if that is somehow worse than being a perpetrator.
I laugh when men accuse me of hating men, because I was raised by men. Men who taught me to be confident, to defend myself at all costs, and to stand up for my beliefs. In short: men created this horrible feminist monster, because they taught me to expect nothing less than respect, and to fight for it if I needed to. They raised me as though I was a person, not just a girl. What a silly mistake.
My father is giant of a man, a former hockey player who I’m sure got in his share of fights. Growing up, my father insisted that I never be the victim of anyone who would hurt my feelings or prey on me physically. I came home from school and complained that a boy had punched me in the nose.
“Well,” he said. “Go back to school tomorrow and punch him in the nose. Hard. He’ll knock it off.” I was seven. From that day forward, no boy fucked with me on the playground and walked away unscathed. I almost never started a fight – but I would gladly end one.
My Grandpa loved to argue, and considered it a perfectly acceptable way to spend a rainy afternoon. I usually was game to argue. The topic could be anything from art to politics to science. He expected me to hold my own. On occasion, I would get frustrated to the point of tears. Grandpa didn’t accept tears. He’d tell me to defend my position or concede that he was right. This is where I learned to stand my ground. Sometimes I would even convince him to see things my way. He taught me that my ideas were just as worthy as his.
My father and grandfather thought they’d done good to raise a girl child in a way that made her stand up for herself, verbally and physically. They thought they were making me strong enough to survive a world they knew to be hard on women. They couldn’t have been naïve enough to assume that there would be no repercussions. I think they just hoped I would be tough enough to withstand them.
As a kid, I was a tomboy, tagging along after my older brothers and their friends. I learned quickly that the culture of boys is incredibly violent, both physically and emotionally. I lay the blame for that fact solidly at the feet of the patriarchy, which tells young men they are only as valuable as their ability to kill, hurt, conquer, or fuck. It tells them that heroes have muscles and weapons, but no hearts or sympathy. When I played with boys, I would often get hurt and cry. I learned early on that crying lead to instant ejection from their company; that if the boys played too rough, I should keep away.
I learned that boys saw tears as a sign of weakness, and nothing is more terrifying to a boy than the threat of having his own weakness exposed, quivering like an oyster outside of its shell. There was no room for sympathy for others – just constant, vigilant self-defence. Sometimes being a grown woman wading through male-dominated waters doesn’t feel too far off from the same schoolyard shenanigans.
I’m no longer shocked by female friends’ confessions that a guy went too far, or hurt her, or hit her, or raped her, and how afterwards, no one took her side. I expect this. We live in a culture that works to silence us every day. Some men understand the silence of women in their lives to means there’s no problem. I would take it to mean that the women in your life don’t feel safe speaking about it.
The Internet allows misogynists to harass us and threaten us with rape and violence and put our home addresses up for people to come get us. Guns allow them to hunt us down and finish the job.
The nice, quiet, harmless guys who tell us we’re overreacting, that we should just relax, that we should let it go, that we should just be nicer? They are as much a part of the problem as any “jock” or “alpha male” catcalling on the street. Ignorance can no longer be an excuse.
I expect nothing less than the following from self-described “good” men:
- Correct friends and family members who speak disparagingly of women.
- Correct any misogynistic or overly-aggressive behaviour of your male friends when you are out in the world. Consider yourself their chaperones. If they rape, you are responsible. If they catcall, you are guilty too. If your friends can’t control themselves, drop them, and tell them why.
- Mentor young men. Show them the ways traditional masculinity can be toxic, and that men and women share an equally important humanity.
- Make friends with women for the sake of their company. Do not consider them potential sex partners. Listen when they speak, make sure they are given ample room to do so.
- Remember that being drunk or sad doesn’t ever make it ok to act like a creep.
- Donate time and money to rape crisis centres, to domestic violence shelters and to abortion clinics. Don’t do this for bragging rights, but because you have more money and power in our society and this is the price.
- Fight for reproductive justice, or at least send a letter to your representatives that it is a matter you feel strongly about. Understand that your voices are louder and reach further than ours do.
- Understand why women may not trust you or feel safe alone with you, and always respect that.
- If you’re worried about a woman walking alone at night, don’t follow, or insist she get in your car, or use it as an opportunity to try to sleep with her – give her some money and call a cab. You’re not a hero for doing this; you’re a decent human, for which there is no reward.
- If you see a woman getting yelled at, running away, or otherwise in danger, get involved. Call the police at the very least. Help but do not make a woman’s tragedy your victory.
- Drop misogynistic language from your vocabulary.
- Listen when women tell you a person or a thing is problematic. Listen, absorb and learn. Remember that arguments, “devil’s advocacy” and outright denial are patriarchal tools. Let them go.
- Make an effort to read women writers, watch the films they make, and support their art;
- Listen to the experiences of women, believe them, use your privilege to boost their voices;
- Let go of your entitlement to women’s time, affection, attention, energy, help, and bodies. Accept that our own needs are more important to us than yours, and that is the way it should be.
- Raise your sons and daughters to respect women; raise your sons to be gentle and your daughters to be tough. They will need it.
Do you think high expectations are the mark of someone who hates men? I believe that my expectations are the mark someone who has been raised by men, who loves men, and will not accept their self-pitying denial of a misogynistic culture that they directly benefit from. I cannot blame an entire gender of people for the actions of some violent misogynists. And I can’t even blame individual men for being raised completely saturated in a misogynistic, patriarchal culture. But I can and do expect more. I demand it.